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Respiratory therapists help patients with ailments like asthma and emphysema truly breathe easier, and in some cases may even save their lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals treat patients with chronic respiratory disease, as well as heart, circulatory, and lung disorders and injuries. They might also administer emergency treatment to patients who are suffering from heart attacks or in shock.

As with most professionals in health care, it is essential for respiratory therapists to be properly trained, and in most cases, that means attending a formal respiratory therapy degree program.

Respiratory Therapy Programs: What to Expect

The College Board notes most states require respiratory therapy majors to attend at least a two-year accredited health program before they can sit for the National Registration Exam through the National Board of Respiratory Care, which is mandatory for licensure. The BLS reports that as of 2014, all states except Alaska required respiratory therapists to be licensed.

According to the College Board, programs for respiratory therapy majors vary, but often require these types of classes:

  • Cardiopulmonary pathophysiology
  • Anatomy
  • Clinical practice
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Therapeutic procedures

Potential Careers for Respiratory Therapy Grads

Those who attend respiratory therapy degree programs have not pigeonholed themselves into a career, however specialized the major may seem. Here are a few positions ideal for those with this type of training, expanded opportunities that may be available with additional education, and job prospects for careers in these fields.

  • Respiratory therapist: As noted above, respiratory therapists help patients with chronic or emergent breathing troubles like asthma or emphysema. Respiratory therapists tend to be in demand and the BLS projects that employment among these professionals will grow by 19 percent between 2012 and 2022 -- faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects should be especially good for those willing to travel or work in rural areas.
  • Athletic trainer or exercise physiologist: Athletic trainers prevent, diagnose and treat muscle and bone injuries in athletes while exercise physiologists develop fitness programs for patients with chronic diseases. Because these professionals often work with medically compromised clients in a fitness-type setting, specialized training -- knowing how to recognize and respond to breathing problems -- can be helpful. The BLS notes that most states require these professionals to hold at least a bachelor's degree in a related field, but master's degrees are quickly becoming a popular option. Job candidates who earn a higher degree on top of respiratory therapy training can gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The BLS projects that overall demand for athletic trainers and exercise physiologists should grow about 19 percent between 2012 and 2022.
  • Physical therapist: Physical therapists, often called PTs, help sick or injured patients -- including those with chronic ailments -- improve mobility and manage pain. All states require physical therapists to earn Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degrees and to be licensed to practice. DPT programs require bachelor's degrees for admission, and a bachelor's in respiratory therapy fits the bill. The BLS projects demand for physical therapists to grow by an impressive 36 percent between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the national average.

The College Board lists several other career fields suitable for respiratory therapy majors, assuming they complete whatever additional training is required of them. These include nursing, cardiovascular technology, and emergency medical and paramedic care. Students can learn more about any of these career options by visiting the BLS online, or contacting prospective schools directly.

"Respiratory Therapists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm
"Major: Respiratory Therapy," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-allied-health-diagnosis-intervention-treatment-respiratory-therapy
"Physical Therapists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm
"Athletic Trainers and Exercise Therapists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/athletic-trainers-and-exercise-physiologists.htm

Pursue your Respiratory Therapy Assisting major today…